By SHELLY WILKISON
The Liberty Hill Livestock Association voted Tuesday to cancel the 2013 BBQ Cookoff blaming the challenges involved in obtaining a Mass Gathering Permit and a general “lack of interest” from inside the organization.
Kenny Adair, who resigned as president of the organization Tuesday, said the process of obtaining the permit from Williamson County was so burdensome and the requirements so costly that LHLA volunteers agreed by a 23-0 vote that the April event should be cancelled. This would have been the first year that the event was required to obtain the Mass Gathering Permit.
“Honestly, it’s almost not worth it. There are easier ways to make money,” said Adair, who has served as president since 2009. He and his wife, Courtney Adair, have spearheaded the event three years.
In 2012, the Cook-off attracted more than 150 cooking teams from across the state and raised more than $27,000, which was used to purchase livestock for local FFA students. The Association also hosts a Gator Giveaway every year — an event that raises almost as much money as the Cook-off, Adair said.
“There wasn’t any controversy (involved in the decision),” Adair said. “The County has made it so overwhelming (to meet the requirements of the permit), that we voted not to have it this year,” he said.
The County is responsible for enforcing a state law that requires a special permit for events held outside a municipality that attract more than 2,500 people, or 500 people if 51 percent or more may be younger than age 21 and alcoholic beverages will be “sold, served or consumed.” An event is also considered a mass gathering if people remain for more than five continuous hours or for any amount of time during a period from 10 p.m. through 4 a.m.
While organizers can’t be sure if 2,500 people attended the event in 2012, the other conditions applied making it necessary to obtain the permit this year.
While Adair said he had hoped to gain assistance cutting through the red tape from Commissioner Cynthia Long, County Judge Dan Gattis and the Sheriff’s Office, the organization’s efforts were not successful.
Commissioner Long told The Independent Wednesday that County officials were not trying to stop the event from happening.
“We just have to follow the law,” she said. “It’s a great cause and a great event, but it’s got to follow the law.”
She said her office had been contacted one time last fall by Mrs. Adair. The Commissioner said her office referred Mrs. Adair to the County Judge’s Office and the Sherriff’s Office because those offices are responsible for granting the permit.
“I don’t deal with any of that, and those (permit applications) don’t come to the (Commissioners) Court for a vote,” she said. “I’m not in a position to ask the Judge to waive a state law.
“But at the end of the day, this is really a safety issue. It (the law requiring a mass gathering permit) is really there to protect the public — even if the event is held on private property.”
In October 2012, LHLA voted to go forward with plans to hold the Cook-off in April 2013, despite all of the permitting requirements. At the time, Adair said that the decision was made by a margin of two votes with only 22 families of the 92 in the organization’s membership participating.
With new regulations, expenses and additional paperwork, Adair said the event had become a full-time job for a dwindling number of volunteers. He said in 2012, it was five families who did all of the work to put on the event — a feat that would have been impossible in 2013.
One major deadline was quickly approaching. BBQ teams would have been required to obtain a temporary food establishment permit from Williamson County & Cities Health District (WCCHD) 45 days prior to the event. Each team would have had to pass an on-site inspection.
But Adair said it was the anticipated costs to the organization that concerned them most.
He said security costs were going to increase significantly as the pay for off-duty law enforcement officers jumped from $40 per hour to $60 per hour. The permit required a 24-hour law enforcement presence, whereas in the past officers were present from dark to 1 a.m. Meeting those requirements would have cost the Association as much as $12,000.
“And they (the County) were going to tell me the number of (portable) toilets and water stations were needed,” he said. “Then, we were going to have to have a full-blown emerency medical center staffed 24/7 with GPS coordinates where a helicopter could land.”
In the past, Williamson County Emergency Services District #4 staffed a mobile unit, he said.
Adair said LHLA Vice President Harold Simpson will lead the organization temporarily until a new president is elected. He said he thought it unlikely that a new president would attempt the Cook-off this year, but the fundraising event was not taken off the table permanently.
“The membership voted it down, so that (having it later in the year) would be unlikely,” he said.
The LHLA BBQ Cook-off started about 18 years ago when a few barbecue teams gathered behind the VFW Post 8200 downtown. In the early days, proceeds from the annual event were shared with the VFW. When the event began drawing more cookers, it was moved in 2008 to the Indian Mound Ranch on State Highway 29.